Shtetl Briefs

Feb 23, 2024 2:40 PM

Article in ‘Der Blatt’ containing the fake letter

An article published this week in the Yiddish-language newspaper Der Blatt cited a letter it claimed was from the New York State Police issuing what it called a “sharp warning against civilian use” of sirens and flashing emergency lights.

Turns out, that was completely fake news. 

The fraudulent document, which first circulated on WhatsApp and other social media, had the New York State Police emblem on it and was addressed to residents of Orange County. The fake letter claimed that “unauthorized” lights and sirens were causing “serious risks to public safety.” 

According to Trooper Steven Nevel, public information officer for the branch of the state police that covers Orange County, the document was fake.

“This letter did not come from the New York State Police,” Nevel wrote in an email to Shtetl.

The fake letter as posted on X by KolHaolam

Der Blatt, a major Hasidic newspaper affiliated with the Aaronite Satmar faction, said the letter “issued a sharp warning against civilian use of blaring sirens and red or blue flashing lights.” Der Blatt did not immediately respond to Shtetl’s request for comment.

The letter appears to have been first published on X, formerly Twitter, by KolHaolam, an account that posts regular but unattributed news items with a particular focus on the Orthodox Jewish world. The post said, “The New York State Police is cracking down on illegal use of red and blue emergency lights in personal vehicles.” KolHaolam did not immediately respond to Shtetl’s request for comment, but the original post with the fake letter was deleted immediately after Shtetl reached out. It is not clear who created the fake letter or why.

Lights and sirens are often used by private Orthodox volunteer organizations, such as Hatzalah, an emergency medical services provider. They are also used in the motorcades of major rabbinic figures, such as the grand rabbis of larger Hasidic sects.

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Feb 22, 2024 4:40 PM

Inspector Ritchie Taylor. Credit: Lauren Hakimi/Shtetl

NYPD inspector Richie Taylor, a fixture in the Orthodox and Haredi political scene and who is himself Orthodox, is being promoted to deputy chief of the NYPD, Hamodia reported.

While his family was not strictly Orthodox when he was growing up, Taylor asked his parents to switch him from public school to a yeshiva during his elementary school years. He then attended Yeshiva of Manhattan Beach, according to an interview he did with Living L'chaim.

Taylor served as a Hatzalah member for years, and was among the first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. He joined the NYPD in 2005, and has been rising steadily in the ranks. These days, he speaks highly of Mayor Eric Adams and says he has a close relationship with the mayor’s Haredi senior advisor, Joel Eisdorfer.

In comments to Hamodia regarding his promotion, Taylor said, “Thank you, Hashem!”

Several Haredi leaders and elected officials offered warm praise for Taylor’s promotion, including Chabad leader Chanina Sperlin, Satmar activist and close mayoral ally Rabbi Abe Friedman, and Councilman Kalman Yeger.

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Feb 22, 2024 1:40 PM

The federal courthouse in Trenton, N.J., where Weinstein appeared last year on initial charges. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Three years after Haredi leaders successfully lobbied then-president Donald Trump to commute the sentence of twice-convicted Lakewood fraudster Eliyahu Weinstein, Weinstein was indicted on Tuesday for allegedly running another Ponzi scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey.

Federal law enforcement officials say that Weinstein and his business associate, Aryeh Bromberg, who is also of Lakewood, solicited investors for ostensibly investing in a healthcare product distributor through an investment firm named Optimus. The recent indictment charges Weinstein and Bromberg with conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. 

Weinstein’s first conviction came a decade ago. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to multiple fraud-related charges in a real estate Ponzi scheme that caused $200 million in losses, in which many of the victims were fellow members of Lakewood’s Haredi community. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison. While he was on pretrial release in 2014, he was sentenced to an additional two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering charges.

Trump commuted Weinstein’s sentence on the last day of his term in office after multiple Haredi leaders implored him to do so. “He has displayed deep remorse and broken-heartedly vows never to repeat his past mistakes,” wrote Rabbi Nochum Dov Brayer of the Boyaner Hasidic sect. Moshe Margaretten of the Tzedek Association, who is from the Skver Hasidic sect, and leading Haredi rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who passed away in 2022, also petitioned Trump to release Weinstein.

Law enforcement officials say that in Weinstein’s latest scheme, he used the alias “Mike Konig” to obscure his identity, along with his criminal past, from investors. When some purported deals turned out to be unprofitable, prosecutors claim, Weinstein and his associates began using funds from new investors to pay earlier investors, claiming the funds were investment returns.

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Feb 21, 2024 3:25 PM

A nonprofit grocery store in New Square, N.Y. Credit: Mo Gelber/Shtetl

A new bill drafted in the New York State legislature would quadruple the minimum amount of SNAP, also known as food stamps, which is widely used by Haredi families.

SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a federally funded program managed at the state level, which offers needy families funds for purchasing essential food items. Currently, households that qualify for SNAP may receive as little as $23 per month. The new legislation calls to raise the minimum to $100.

The program is relied upon heavily by Haredi communities, where poverty rates are high and family sizes are large. Partial data for Haredi SNAP usage can be seen in figures available for all-Haredi locales. Over 64% of households in the Hasidic village of New Square and nearly 50% of households in the village of Kaser, a Vizhnitz Hasidic enclave within Monsey, receive SNAP benefits, according to data from the American Community Survey. By comparison, only 14% of New York State residents overall received SNAP benefits.

The legislation is sponsored in the Assembly by Jessica González-Rojas, who represents Jackson Heights, Queens, and in the Senate by Rachel May, whose district includes Syracuse and other Central New York areas. The bill has multiple sponsors and co-sponsors, including Assemblymember Emily Gallaghar, who represents Williamsburg, which has a sizable Hasidic community, and Senator Zellnor Myrie, who represents Crown Heights, the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

As of this reporting, neither Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein nor Senator Simcha Felder, both of whom represent Hasidic communities in Brooklyn, have co-sponsored the legislation. But Eichenstein told Shtetl he has co-signed a letter to Governor Hochul requesting an appropriation in the budget to fund the program.

Many Haredi families receive more than the minimum already, and the program is not likely to impact them.

The bill was inspired by a pandemic-era program that automatically gave SNAP recipients a monthly increase. That program expired last March.

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Feb 16, 2024 3:40 PM

Satmar school buses in Rockland County. Photo: Shtetl

A five-year-old Hasidic girl, identified by multiple outlets as Toba Ruchel Neuman, was struck and killed on Friday by a school bus driving her home from her Satmar school.

The girl had just been dropped off at her home in Spring Valley when the bus struck her, according to Yeshiva World News. Hamodia reported that Hatzolah members arrived within minutes, but could not save the girl’s life. 

In a press release, the Spring Valley Police Department said it traveled to the scene immediately after being notified at 11:15 a.m, and is investigating the matter.

The tragedy comes just weeks after eight-year-old Mordechai Pinchas Spitzer was struck and killed less than three miles away by a school bus right outside of his school, in the Hasidic village of New Square.

Steve White, a Ramapo resident who advocates for local public school students, said the two deaths — and many injuries that preceded them — are not a coincidence, but rather a result of years of poor choices by the East Ramapo Central School District, which contracts with private bus companies to transport public and private school students alike.

“I personally see these private bus companies whizzing through town at high rates of speed and cutting corners,” White told Shtetl. “I’ve seen a bunch of drivers on their cell phones while they’re driving the buses.”

White said the district should switch bus companies.

Clarence Ellis, the superintendent of the school district, was not immediately available to respond to White’s comments.

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Feb 16, 2024 1:45 PM

Classic flip cell phone. Photo: Shutterstock

In a column advocating less smartphone use, New York Times writer Kashmir Hill held up an unlikely exemplar: a Haredi-owned cabinet manufacturer in Newark, New Jersey.

Last May, Joel Epstein, the Hasidic owner of Fabuwood, instituted a new policy by asking employees to deposit their smartphones on a shelf outside each meeting room. Employees are also asked to generally abstain from using their smartphones during work hours. Fabuwood also offers to pay for employees’ phones for anyone who switches to a flip phone. After six months, Fabuwood reported a 20% increase in productivity as a result of the new policy.

Back in October, Epstein posted to his LinkedIn account reflecting on the positive benefits of giving up his own smartphone seven years ago. 

In an article titled “A Practical Guide to Quitting Your Smartphone,” Hill described how she learned about Fabuwood after writing an earlier article about the benefits of switching to a flip phone, which, in her experience, helped her reduce stress, allowed her more reading time, and reminded her of the pleasure of conversation while running with her husband.  

Last week, Der Yid, a Satmar-affiliated Yiddish-language newspaper, took particular satisfaction with the Times’s article, saying that Mr. Epstein, a Kiryas Joel resident, made a “Kiddush Hashem” — loosely translated: made observant Jews look good. Der Yid has otherwise been no fan of the Times, criticizing it especially in recent years for its coverage of Hasidic yeshivas and their failure to provide students with legally required secular studies education.

Der Yid reporting the New York Times article with satisfaction

Smartphones are frowned upon within many Haredi communities, especially when they come with unfiltered internet. In some Hasidic communities, smartphones are forbidden altogether. Many Haredi synagogues have signs prohibiting the use of smartphones inside prayer and study areas.

One Jewish, but non-Haredi congress member, Senator Chuck Schumer, has been known for using a flip phone despite his high profile and his busy schedule.

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Feb 15, 2024 1:25 PM

NYS Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: Shutterstock

New York Attorney General Letitia James met recently with local leaders at Rockland Community College to discuss antisemitism and mental health, multiple Haredi news outlets reported.

Leaders discussed antisemitism on social media, in schools, and on college campuses, and mental health among youth and police officers, and busing to Haredi schools in the county, according to the Rockland Daily.

According to a video from the event posted by the Monsey Scoop, the event was organized by Yoel Lefkowitz, James’s director of Jewish outreach and Intergovernmental affairs, Rockland legislator Aron Wieder, and Mona Montal, Ramapo supervisor’s Chief of Staff. Also present were District Attorney Tom Walsh, New Square Mayor Izzy Spitzer, and Josef Margaretten, coordinator for Chaverim of Rockland, along with many other local leaders.

“Because of your leadership, the leadership of our law enforcement, our district attorney, that we can stand proud and say, ‘We’re not afraid to be Jewish,’” Montal is seen saying in the video. “Come at us and we’re gonna come back at you,” she said, then pointed at James: “Because we have you standing with us.”

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Feb 14, 2024 12:25 PM

Democrat former rep. Tom Suozzi. Photo: Shutterstock

Tom Suozzi, a New York Democrat who has ingratiated himself with Haredi leaders, won his election on Tuesday to take over disgraced politician George Santos’s seat in the U.S. Congress.

With 93% of ballots counted as of Wednesday morning, Suozzi leads Republican Mazi Pilip, an Orthodox Jew, by about eight percentage points. Suozzi will represent a district that includes parts of northeastern Queens and the North Shore of Long Island, an area that does not include many Hasidic or Litvish residents, aside from Chabad emissaries. The district is, however, home to a growing community of Bukharian Jews, separate from the community’s main base in Forest Hills, Queens. 

Suozzi, who is staunchly pro-Israel, represented this district in Congress before leaving to run for governor of New York. During that race, he courted Haredi leaders’ support, meeting with Chabad-Lubavitch leaders and attending a Satmar event. He was endorsed in the primary by Chabad rabbi Shea Hecht. Suozzi also received campaign contributions from Leon Goldenberg, a trustee for the Haredi organization Agudath Israel of America, and Rabbi Michael Melnick, who made his contribution using the address for the main headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch community, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

Suozzi explained his views on the state of Haredi education during his gubernatorial bid. In 2022, he told the New York Times editorial board that he believed 99% of Jewish schools offered “very good” education, and for the rest, “you should be calling them out and trying to send a task force in there to try and persuade them to change.” When a member of the board told Suozzi that the state had been unsuccessful in using that strategy, Suozzi said, “I don’t know that it hasn’t worked.”

Tuesday’s special election took place after Santos was expelled from Congress on Dec. 1 after prosecutors accused him of misusing campaign funds.

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Feb 13, 2024 1:50 PM

Still from News12 video broadcast

Less than two weeks after a building in Borough Park partially collapsed, killing one construction worker, the New York City Department of Buildings discovered an illegal excavation project in a different section of Borough Park and ordered the evacuation of three attached buildings on 13th Avenue, according to a report on News12.

More than a dozen tenants were now forced out of their homes. The Red Cross told News12 that they were assisting 16 people to find new homes, including four children. 

According to the report, the city was first alerted to the illegal construction on Feb. 2, the same day a construction worker died in a partial collapse of a building less than a mile away, also without a permit. As Shtetl reported at the time, that residential single family home also served as a synagogue.

The city only gained access to the 13th Avenue buildings on Sunday, Feb. 11, and, upon discovering that the excavation was destabilizing the building, immediately ordered the evacuation.

Early Monday morning, a post on the DOB’s account on X, formerly Twitter, included a meme of Kansas City football player Travis Kelce shouting at his coach, with the post in all caps:



The building is said to be owned by a kosher grocery store called Kosher Mehadrin Operations USA, an LLC, which allows the owner to remain anonymous.

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Feb 8, 2024 4:00 PM

The Special Children’s Center in Lakewood, N.J. Photo: Google Street View

New Jersey lawmakers are drafting legislation to improve patient safety after an article in NJ Advance Media raised alarm about the treatment of disabled people at a Haredi-run institution.

A young autistic woman was neglected to the point of extreme tooth decay and alarming thinness at the Special Children’s Center, a state-funded group home in Lakewood meant to serve disabled adults and children, according to the report.

The 18-year-old woman, whom named only as “Leah,” lived at the center when employees informed her mother that no one was consistently administering Leah’s medication or brushing her teeth. Eventually, executive director Chaya Bender sent the mother an email saying the center couldn’t meet Leah’s needs, and she was removed from the facility.

Two former employees for the center told about systemic problems at the center, saying that management sometimes denied requests to take children to the doctor. They also said that when employees struggled to take care of children, they sometimes gave the children medication to put them to sleep or calm them down. 

Bender did not respond to calls and emails from

The Special Children’s Center was founded by Bender along with Jenine Shwekey, wife of the popular Orthodox musician Yaakov Shwekey. The center is expanding to Brooklyn and the Five Towns, the founders told the hosts of the Meaningful People podcast.

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Feb 6, 2024 5:30 PM

A street corner in Borough Park. Credit: Shtetl

Haredi newlyweds in Borough Park are facing a severe shortage of apartments available for rent, according to multiple Haredi news outlets.

Calling it a “crisis” and a “painful reality,” the Haredi news website BoroPark24 reported that many families are struggling to find suitable places for newlyweds to live after their wedding. Many couples are being “forced” to live in basements or even pay for hotel stays until they can find something more suitable.

“In the end,” one parent told BoroPark24, “we had no choice but to take a furnished apartment in a tiny basement, so below standard from anything we imagined.”

Among the factors leading to this crisis are high interest rates on new mortgages, explosive population growth in many Haredi communities, and the costly infrastructure required for establishing new communities.

In recent years, however, new Haredi communities have sprung up outside of the more established ones. One example is a thriving new community in Linden, N.J., which has, over the past decade, become a viable alternative to places like Borough Park, Williamsburg, Monsey, or Lakewood.

More intrepid couples have ventured even farther, with new Hasidic communities springing up in Mount Olive and Greenville, N.J., and even as far out as Casa Grande, Ariz., and Tampa, Fla.

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Feb 2, 2024 4:15 PM

Dion Marsh. Photo: Ocean County Prosecutor's Office

A man who terrorized the Lakewood community in a string of violent attacks two years ago pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal hate crimes and a carjacking.

Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the state of New Jersey announced that Dion Marsh, 29, pleaded guilty on charges of attempting to murder four Orthodox Jews and injuring one other in and around Lakewood, New Jersey. The incidents unfolded on an afternoon in April 2022, when Marsh, from nearby Manchester, deliberately rammed a vehicle into four identifiably Orthodox Jews. In two of those incidents, he used a car he stole from another Orthodox man, whom he had assaulted and injured earlier that afternoon. In one instance, he got out of the car after ramming it into a victim and stabbed the man in the chest.

According to reports at the time, the stabbing victim was in serious condition, but there were no reported fatalities.

Marsh faced five hate crime charges and one carjacking charge.

U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger said, “This defendant violently attacked five men, driving a car into four of them, stabbing one of them in the chest, and attempting to kill them, simply because they were visibly identifiable as Orthodox Jews.”

A close friend of Marsh, Ryan Zimmerman, told Shtetl that Marsh was under the heavy influence of drugs at the time, and was not motivated by antisemitism.

“I know the real Dion,” Zimmerman said, and he was “a loving, caring man, that would take the shirt off his back for you.” 

“He deserves a chance to prove himself sober,” Zimmerman added.

Marsh faces life in prison for these crimes, and he will be sentenced on June 11th.

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